You may well have seen on TV news, that the State of Santa Caterina in the South of Brazil has experienced the worst flooding in its history. Over the last week, I have been moved to tears on several occasions by the scenes and stories of some of those who live there.
10,000 houses destroyed.
80,000 people homeless.
30 people missing
The numbers of those missing and dead, is expected to rise as more information comes in from isolated areas.
Santa Caterina has suffered from extensive flooding before, but this time it has covered areas that have never been affected before. Many people were taken by surprise by the extent of the flooding, and the speed with which the water level rose, coming so rapidly that many people were unable to save any of their possessions. Yet the situation for many others is far worse.
In rural areas landslides and rivers of mud have completely destroyed thousands of homes. In one community of 1200 inhabitants, 4000 people have lost their homes and 50 people their lives. One woman said there were three men holding her teenage son back, to stop him trying to hold up their house as it collapsed in front of them. Everywhere she looked, houses were falling apart. She said she thought it was the end of the world.
A man, with his distraught wife desperately looking to him for comfort, reported how the house he had just finished after 12 years work, collapsed in 3 minutes.
A woman who’s haunted face I will find hard to forget, climbed out of a window with one of her children as her house was engulfed in a sea of mud. Her mother, father, husband and three other children were unable to escape.
The main roads have been closed by landslides and smaller roads are also impassable. When the rescue services reached some areas by helicopter, people had been without food, clean water and electricity for three days. A rescue worker, visibly moved by what he was seeing said, if these people don’t get proper, sustained help soon, this community will die from thirst, hunger and cold.
And on and on, thousands of desperately sad stories.
The clear up has begun but many are saying the situation could well get much worse. Many houses are still standing up to their roofs in water.
There is a very real danger of health epidemics. Dengue fever, already a serious problem in the region, is likely to increase with the flooded areas providing a breeding ground for the mosquito responsible for the spread of Dengue.
The conditions are ideal for African snails which also spread disease, and of course rats. Untold numbers of animals died in the flood waters and their rotting bodies are adding water born diseases to the list. There is an ocean of rubbish building up, but the councils are in an impossible situation. Even if their trucks could carry out their usual rounds, many of the council workers are amongst those who have been dispossessed, getting the work force back on track will take time.
Brazil is mobilising a rescue campaign. People are donating clothes, bedding, medicines, food, water and money. A programme of vaccination against Tetanus and Leptospirosis is under way. The Army and National Force have set up field hospitals, and there will be governmental aid, but Santa Caterina needs much more. It is estimated that the clean up will take a minimum of six months.
Many of those affected are desperately poor to start with. Most of the commercially available furniture here is made from chipboard. It cant withstand water, once wet it just falls apart. Knowing how things are where we are, I would imagine that a large number of people will have been buying that furniture on credit. Already paying over the odds for the product, they will now be paying for something they no longer have, probably with little or no hope of replacing their items. For poor people everywhere, household insurance is out of reach.
Sadly, as is often the way in so called natural disasters, it is clear that the flooding and landslides have been made worse by the hand of man. Many of the flooded homes were built in areas that have been flooded in the past, and vast areas have been cleared of tree cover in order to plant cash crops such as rice and bananas.
Geologists have been reporting that in many of the areas affected by landslides, houses have been built with no regard to the structure of the soil. Again the areas have often been cleared of tree cover, causing the already fragile soil structure to become completely unstable in the event of heavy rain fall.
It was reported on TV that land, free of the risk of flooding, is being sort for the rebuilding programme. Ironically in Santa Caterina, half the territory is under water and the other half is suffering from severe drought (as is the North East of Brazil).
To try and help re-build, re-house and re-equip the dispossessed, a television company has started a money raising campaign.
To avoid corruption and frauds, and to reassure all those donating that their money will reach the intended target, the donated money will be under the inspection and control of a company of highly respected auditors.
One old lady who’s house was still standing but had been condemned, said that it was a tragedy, but she was still smiling and her heart had been made glad, by knowing that there were thousands of people out there who want to help. She made Neu and I think all our problems are as nothing in comparison.
There is still a risk of further rain fall..
If you wish to make a donation
Conta Corrente 2500-3
A TV advert said that it is possible for people overseas to do a direct electronic transfer of amounts under R$1000.00 Over that amount you have to do a transfer via a bank quoting ref BBDEBRPSPO
www.ressoar.org.br For more information on the rescue campaign being organised by the TV company
©Claire Pattison Valente 2008